Chapter One: What Are You Thinking?
The day the summer festival was held couldn't have been more perfect. The sun was shining overhead in a cloudless sky, the mood was upbeat, and plenty of travelers had shown up for the festivities. The winding streets were already filled with people, and it wasn't even noon yet. Shouts of items for sale and calls of friends to each other filled the air, mixing with the smell of many different foods and giggles of children at play.
Amongst the throngs of people dressed in brightly-colored summer robes stood a small group of four, consisting of three children and their supervising adult. At first glance, one would assume the kids were on holiday like everyone else, but a more thorough examination would reveal the metal headbands wrapped around each of their heads, signifying them as shinobi warriors. However, even ninja like vacations…
"Hey, look!, you guys!" Naruto exclaimed, pointing to some far-off booth. "Goldfish catchers! And water balloons!"
"Hmph," muttered Sasuke, obviously wanting to be somewhere else.
"Oh, come on, Sasuke-kun, it's not that lame…" Sakura said half-heartedly, mentally patronizing the boy for his moodiness but lacking the courage to say it to his face. She only squeaked as he answered with a half-lidded expression that said, Are you kidding me?
"All right, kids, this IS a festival, so you can all relax, play games, or whatever," interrupted Kakashi from behind the three of them, half his face covered by the book he was always reading. "But be back at the inn in time. I don't want to have to come find you."
"Cool! I'm so out of here!" proclaimed Naruto with a wide grin, before taking off into the crowd and disappearing from sight almost instantly. Sakura fidgeted hesitantly, then turned to ask Sasuke to accompany her, but he and Kakashi had vanished silently into the throngs of people in all the roads of this town. She sighed, and started slowly walking around the festival grounds, devoid of her teammate's companionship.
Brightly colored storefronts and temporary booths lined the streets for all the tourists who came this time of year. It seemed one could buy just about anything imaginable from the right combination of stalls. Some sold food, some exotic jewelry, and many other things besides. But none caught Sakura's eye, as her mind was already stuck to her crush.
Come on, Sakura, she thought to herself. It's a festival, you should be happy... But there's nothing here for people who want somewhere quiet to do some thinking...I wish Sasuke-kun hadn't left…
She stopped walking along one of the less-crowded sidewalks for a moment, blinking in confusion before retracing her last few steps.
I thought I saw…Yes, there it is!
Wedged between a bookstore and a restaurant was a small, dark green building she was certain hadn't been there before. The mossy-green stones of the walls were covered in ivy, and the peeling paint on the sign in one dusty window read "Odd Brews And The Like."
Weird name for a store… she thought. Wonder what it sells besides…"brews?" Curiosity overpowering her, she glanced behind her cautiously, before reaching out to push open the creaky door.
A small, tinny sound came from the wired bell above the door frame. Inside, the place looked like it had been abandoned for years. Dust was all over the place, along with herbal and a definite smell of cats hanging in the air. There were shelves everywhere, like a massive library, though they didn't carry scrolls or books. The light spilling in from the doorway showed millions of tiny bottles, each a different shape and filled with a colored liquid sitting silently in neat rows on the dusty shelves.
She let the door swing shut behind her as the dim glow of a single bare ceiling bulb clicked on, though no-one seemed to have flipped any switch. The silence remained, only interrupted now and then with the sound of wind blowing somewhere in the back of the store.
Moving through the rows of shelves towards the back of the store, which seemed a lot bigger on the inside than the outside, Sakura tried reading some of the dust-covered labels taped below each of the bottles. All were written in archaic-looking handwriting, but legible enough.
"'Plant Fertilizer'…. 'Hair Restoration'… 'Coughing Sickness Cure'…"
What is this place? A pharmacy mixed with a cosmetics store? There's so many of these bottle things…Are they all for different problems?
She blinked, realizing the front entrance had been left far behind, and she now stood before a small counter against the back wall, the area the bare, overhead bulb lit up most. Stacks of dusty books covered most available surface, with a door behind the piles leading somewhere unknown.
"Hi there, can I help you?"
She jumped about six inches off the floor in response to the high-pitched voice coming from behind a heap of books on one end of the old counter. These were promptly swept out of the way by what turned out to be a tiny girl in a pink cleaning apron.
"Oh, goody! We haven't had a customer in ages!" she cooed, clearing away books, bottles, and other debris from the counter and heaving an ancient-looking cash register into the surface in their place. She couldn't have been more than four feet tall, with grass-green hair in braids and a playful cuteness that meant she might be around eight or nine years old.
"Excuse me, miss, I was just looking…" stammered Sakura, still recovering from the girl's sudden appearance. "I mean, there's so much stuff here to see…"
"This is my gramma's shop, and it's the best," said the girl with sparkling eyes. "We've got every kind of potion here, all homemade and guaranteed to work. I'm learning to make them myself, but I'm not so good yet…"
"Potions…?" asked Sakura with a confused look. Potions are only in fairy tales…aren't they?
"Yup, every kind. Oh, and my name's Nya, like the cat noise." Nya giggled and said her name a few times more, seemingly liking the sound of it. "We have a real cat, but he's mean. You wouldn't like him, Miss."
"You said 'every kind' of potion…what does that mean?" asked Sakura hesitantly.
"You know, silly. Stuff to fix people when they get sick, stuff to make things grow, some poisons, love brews-"
Sakura only half-listened, her mind frozen after "love brews."
I've read about love potions in stories…but they don't exist…they can't…It's impossible…isn't it?
"If you need any help finding anything, I'll help," said Nya with her giggling voice.
"You…you said you had 'love brews'…could you…um…show them to me maybe?" asked Sakura, with obvious embarrassment. What am I doing? she thought. This kid's a scam artist. Love potions don't exist…I feel so dumb…
But Nya had already skipped through the piles of junk on the floor and was motioning for her to follow before vanishing behind a shelf of bottles.
Might as well humor the little girl, Sakura thought grimly as she navigated her way behind Nya. Before long, the girl stopped in front of one row of shelves seemingly indistinguishable from the rest, but obviously different to her.
"Here's all of them. The ones at this end are all for wishy-washies. They're not very strong or long-lasting. Here's one that only lasted an hour…"
Sakura followed her down the row, deciphering each label as Nya pointed to it. Some had odd names, like "Haughty Wife," "Full Moon," or "Flower Petal." The supposed weaker mixes were a bright, opaque shade of magenta, but as they increased in potency, they gradually became clearer.
"And this," Nya announced with a flourishing gesture, "is the bestest one we got here. It never wears off and works the strongest on anyone. My gramma made it especially for the hardest love cases there are."
They had reached the bottom shelf of the final row. Bending over in the dim light, Sakura examined the final vial interestedly. The bottle was the size of an eraser, with frosted glass in the shape of a small flower bud. The liquid inside was a translucent, rose-color that glittered softly once brought to light. Squinting, she slowly made out the tiny, handwritten script of the label.
"Entwinement," she read aloud.
Nya nodded enthusiastically. "Bestest ever."
Sakura's Inner Self was having a massive conflict with her common sense over the little container. What if it really works? You're crazy! This kid obviously wants your money and nothing else. But she seems pretty honest… That's what they all seem like!
"You probably don't believe what I'm saying," Nya murmured sadly, looking away.
"Oh, no, sorry, it's just…" Sakura stammered. How can she read my mind?
"But I promise, super-duper-cross-my-heart-promise it really works," Nya proclaimed. "I've seen the stuff my gramma makes, and it always works."
Oh…that sad little face…
"Um, if you don't mind I'd like to…um…maybe buy some of that?" Sakura asked, giving an uneasy smile.
Nya's eyes instantly lit up like shining stars. "YAY!" she squealed happily. "It's been so long since we sold something, Gramma will be so happy!"
What am I doing? thought Sakura as the girl scampered off. Maybe the kid just needs money, like those people in the Land of Waves…So it won't be so bad to buy some junk off her…
Nya scurried behind the dusty counter once again, and rummaged through hidden drawers behind the tabletop before producing a bottle identical to the one on the shelf, the pale pink liquid inside sloshing as she spoke.
"You have to listen to me for this part," said Nya in a serious tone. "My gramma always told the people who bought stuff here how to work their potions. This one goes like this, see," she explained, making elaborate hand movements to illustrate her words. "This'n works by putting a drop of it on your lips," she said, touching her face, "and then you go find your person and give him a big wet one, right in the mouth," she giggled girlishly.
"You mean I have to…kiss him?" asked Sakura, blushing and taken aback.
"Uh-huh! And then he goes to sleep for a bit."
"And you can't go nowhere, 'cause he falls in love with the first thing he sees when he wakes up, and it better be you 'cause we don't give refunds," recited Nya with obvious amusement.
This is crazy, muttered Inner Sakura. It would never, ever, in a million years work. Never ever, ever! …Oh, what the heck. She needs the cash. Just do it.
"How much is it?"
"Special sale today, Miss. Only six thousand yen! 'Cause you're the first person in so long to buy something."
Wow, that's cheap for something so apparently important… thought Sakura as she handed over the money in wrinkled paper bills.
"Is he handsome?"
"Um, excuse me?" asked Sakura, caught off-guard by the question and blushing again.
"The guy you're getting this for. Is he handsome?" inquired Nya with a devilish grin.
"Um, yeah…kind of…" Sakura responded, looking away in embarrassment.
Nya giggled, and called "Bye, bye, come again soon!" as Sakura waved back and left the strange little store, allowing the rickety door to swing shut behind her.
Had she glanced over her shoulder once more, she might've seen that the shop had vanished from sight in an instant.
"So, did you all find something to do?" asked Kakashi while the team, thoroughly exhausted from their day at the festival, walked back to their hotel. The setting sun lit up the sky overhead with orange and pink, turning the clouds purple as the ninjas' elongated shadows stretched out in front of them.
"Yeah, I played pachinko for the first time ever!" announced Naruto. "Well, not really, 'cuz I had to get some guy to do it for me…"
"You lost every time," remarked Sasuke, the first he'd spoken since they'd reunited.
"But I had fun doing it! I bet you sat in a corner all day and did nothing."
Sakura half-listened to the two of them bicker, imagining what they'd say to her if she reported her day's activities.
Hey Sakura, what did you do at the festival?
Oh, not much, I just got a magical potion from a little kid running a scam-artist life in an abandoned shop.
And you fell for it? Wow, and I thought you were the smart one...
"So, how did you spend your day, Sakura?" asked Naruto, obviously through with arguing over matters of underage gambling.
"Oh," she blurted, caught off-guard. "You know…window-shopping, stuff like that…I didn't buy much."
"That's weird. Usually you drag Emo Boy all over the place, spending your parent's cash like crazy…" Naruto stated, scratching the back of his head in confusion.
"I told you to stop calling me that," muttered the Uchiha.
"Kids, just this once, how about we get to the hotel without a philosophical dispute," sighed Kakashi, already used to this happening most of the time.
"Well, what did you do at the festival, sensei?" accused Naruto, jabbing a finger at his teacher.
"Me? Oh, you know…enjoying life."
"That's not an answer, Kakashi-sensei."
"Well, it's the only one you're getting. Look, there's our hotel. And no fighting over the bathroom once we get there!"
To anyone who liked the first version enough to reread even now: Yes, I did rewrite quite a bit of this. After countless rereadings on my part, I decided it'd be tons better written in my current style (and here's hoping I've improved some...) This might also be done for some other chapters I deem unsatisfactory, so don't freak if you find words that weren't there before.